Founders Brewing

Is Founders Brewing Still Craft Beer?

Founders BrewingDuring a recent episode of Have A Drink (a podcast that I listen to regularly), they discussed the history of Founders Brewing.

For many of us, we have a deep love for Founders. From their All Day IPA to KBS, I’ve enjoyed just about every beer I’ve had from them. And I think that most of the beer community feels the same way.

But as my friends from the Have A Drink podcast discussed, many in the craft beer community continue to embrace them even though they no longer meet the requirements to be considered craft beer – according to the definition provide by the Brewers Association.

Why is this? Seems that Founders has been given a pass while other breweries; like Goose Island, Lagunitas and Wicked Weed, are crucified for selling or taking on inventors.

I think there’s a lot going on here and worth discussing.

Quick Info On Founders Brewing

  • Founders Brewing MapEstablished in 1997 which marks 2017 as their 20th Anniversary
  • Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • They will exceed 400,000 barrels of beer this year
  • You can find their beer in 46 states and select countries throughout the world
  • Most known for their All Day IPA and KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)

The brewery nearly closed a few years after opening. Then they revised their strategy and started making beer they enjoyed drinking rather than what they thought would sell.

This new strategy was just what the market was looking for and they haven’t looked back. Today, they continue to push the limits of beer. One example is their barrel-aged series that has featured an IPA and malt liquor this year.

Why Founders Brewing Is No Longer Craft Beer

Founders Brewing Pale JoeThis part is simple, the Brewers Association uses three characteristics to define craft beer:

  • Small – less than 6 million barrels of beer produced per year
  • Independent – less than 25% owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member that isn’t a craft brewer
  • Traditional – majority of it’s production is created through traditional or innovative brewing ingredients

In many ways, you can look at these requirements as a way to exclude any company that has connections to the large macro breweries or companies that make flavored malt beverages.

Up until 2014, Founders Brewing was considered craft beer. Then they sold 30% of their company to Mahou-San Miguel. Many won’t recognize this company but they are based in Madrid, Spain where they operate a huge brewing company.

The sale of 30% of the company to a non-craft brewer excludes them from what the Brewers Association considers craft beer.

They still meet the other two requirements but it is an all or nothing categorization.

Why Some Still Consider Them Craft Beer

Founders BrewingJust because the Brewers Association no longer considers them “craft” doesn’t mean consumers feel the same way.

There’s a few factors that allow them to not get as much heat as other breweries that have sold or received investments from large beer companies.

Minimal Investment – At 30%, it’s an amount that most people feel doesn’t have a huge impact on the culture or initiatives of the company. And at least they haven’t completely sold out.

Who’s Mahou-San Miguel? – Most people don’t recognize the company that invested. Unlike Anhueser Busch, they are not a household name. This helps Founders stay clear of any negative feelings because many (myself included) didn’t even realize that this company is a macro brewery.

Culture – From the consumer’s viewpoint, it appears that the company hasn’t be negatively impacted by the investment. Founders feels the same so we treat them the same.

Marketing & Distribution– It didn’t take long for AB InBev to leverage their distribution and marketing to get Goose Island into every bar, sports venue and grocery store from coast to coast. While Founders can be found in nearly every state, they don’t have the “mass marketing feel”. This makes them feel like a small craft brewery even though they are quite large.

Bottom line is the craft beer world still has love for Founders even though they got outside funding to help them grow. They still look, feel and taste like the same company we grew to know and love.

Related Article: Brewery Ownership List

Do You Think Founders Brewing Still Makes Craft Beer?

Yes, the Brewers Association no longer recognizes them as craft beer. That doesn’t mean the community feels the same way.

I struggle with the concept of what is or is not craft beer. I agree that the buy outs of Goose Island, Ballast Point, etc have been unsettling and aren’t good for craft beer.

But what about Founders?

They only sold a portion of the company, still produce great products and feel like the same craft brewery that we’ve loved for a long time.

Does ownership really matter?

For now, I am going to walk the line and recognize that they are not craft beer but still enjoy their beer occasionally. I’d love to see them buy back that investment and return to being independently owned but I don’t think that is going to happen.

At the end of the day, everyone of us will have a unique definition for what is and what is not craft beer.

Do You Consider Founders Brewing Craft Beer Still?


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